What Didn't Work

The "Solar Age" didn't last very long and the support for projects of this type evaporated by the mid 1980's. As a result, there were few attempts to rigorously test the components of these types of homes. However, based upon our observations it appears that some of the components in the home had little value. For example:

  • The water barrel heat storage system at the basement windows and the associated fan system never seemed work. The water in the barrels remained at a relatively constant temperature and didn't respond to solar heating. We ended up removing the barrels after a few years. By contrast, the ceramic floor tile, concrete and concrete block in the living area works like a charm.
  • The Tromb Wall seems to work, but not as well as similar material used in the solarium and the other south facing living spaces.

The lesson here seems to be that the amount of solar heat gained and stored in our area is enough to make a large impact in areas with direct solar exposure and direct heat storage. However, it seems that the amount of solar heating available in our area is insufficient to overcome the heat loss that occurs when one attempt move the heat from one area to another.

I have also had the chance to visit and inspect many other solar homes and solar components and have found several other types of systems that tended to fail or result in limited value:

  • Very few of the thousands of solar water heaters installed in the 1980's are still in operation. I am unaware of a single such system in our area that actually works or has been cost effective.
  • Phase Change Salts and similarly expensive heat storage components seem to be an expensive alternative to ceramic tile, stone, brick and concrete.
  • 100% solar heating may be theoretically possible, but in our area and with today's technology it is very complicated and very expensive. based on our experience with "Solar I", the first 50% or so in savings are relatively easy and the costs and benefits are reasonable.

Solar systems also gained a poor reputation for some wrong reasons. The solar tax credits of the 1980's attracted some 'snake oil' sales people who only cared about the tax savings.

Solar systems also attracted a large number of amateurs who understood very little about construction and even less about solar systems. Many of their "inventions" performed very poorly.